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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Interpreting Inkblots or Looking at Art?

When Bow finished his sketch, I told him "thank you" but I made no comment about whether it was good or bad or what it was about. To be honest, it looked like a bunch of scribbles to me, and I did not want to hurt his feelings. Sometimes when a child hands you a picture, it is best not to comment too much, because you are not sure what it is supposed to be, and if they had one thing in mind, and you see something else, they might get discouraged.

After I posted the video of Bow sketching and blogged about it yesterday, Bow wanted to go out to play, and I took some candid shots of him just having a nice time out of doors.

But later, in the evening, I looked again at the sketch Bow had made, and I thought I saw a representational image. I mean, it started to look like something to me, after I stared at it for a while.

I started to see, as clear as day, what I thought of as an ape in profile facing toward the right. To give you some idea where I see this, I will mark up the picture with my interpretation.

The question is: Is this an objective interpretation of something that is really in the drawing, or is it something that my mind is adding to the lines that are there, because my mind wants this to resolve into a representational sketch? Asking Bow did not help, because he refuses to say what his drawing represents or even to say that it represents anything.

So I opened the question up to my Facebook friends. I wanted to know what they saw. The answers varied wildly:

  • A little girl with full hair
  • A girl in profile with a dog's face next to her
  • A crowd of people on the side of the road
  • A mother holding a baby over her right shoulder
  • Snow, and one black wolf waiting on the other side of the hill waiting for two others to join him
  • A self portrait of Bow
  • A self portrait, and he is smiling

So it seems that the picture is an inkblot open to any and all interpretations. Which makes me wonder about all sketches. How do we ever figure out when something is really intended to represent something specific? Yes, you could ask the artist. But what if the artist won't answer or has been long dead? How do we recognize cave paintings of bison or the first tentative attempt at drawing a face by a small child?

Some people are not into representational art, so for them this is not a problem. But I don't belong to that school of thought.  I also don't believe that what the artist says determines what it's a picture of. If everybody who looks at something sees a camel, but the artist insists it's a picture of his mother-in-law, I would say it's a picture of a camel that the artist meant to represent the mother-in-law. I feel the same way about books. If the author says it's a book about X, but every reader gets Y out of it, then it's probably about Y.

So what do you think? Was Bow just scribbling? And what do you see in the inkblot?


  1. I see a picture of you in his way of seeing things.

    1. Thanks, Debbie. I can see how that might be what he intended, and it would be a nice thing, too.

  2. I like to see pictures in clouds floating by, but at the end, these are just lcouds. Speaking of art, I have a book called "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain," which essentially teaches people who do not know how to draw to create surprisingly realistic drawings. One of the exercises Betty Edwards has her students try is drawing an object by using an upside down reference photograph. This is supposed to take away any representational value the object has, and teach a person how to draw what is actually there. Apparently Betty's approach is considered controversial in the art world, but her books and courses do produce good results.

    1. Yes, that's exactly what I am getting at. The question is, how are marks on a paper different from cloud pictures we see? Everybody agrees the cloud pictures are all in our heads. But sometimes when we look at a child's sketch, what we see is really there, in the sense that most people will agree what is there. However badly drawn, a child's drawing is usually purposeful, and we see the intent.

      That sounds like an interesting technique for teaching art, the one practiced by Betty Edwards. Most people have to unlearn what they think something looks like in order to find out what it really looks like. Our preconceptions are so much a part of what we see.